A recent Cochrane review of randomised trials identified a lack of evidence for interventions provided to drug-using offenders. We use routine data to address whether contact with treatment services reduces heroin users’ likelihood of a future acquisitive offence or drug-related poisoning (DRP) death.

Heroin-users were identified from probation assessments and linked to drug-treatment, mortality and offending records. The study cohort was selected to ensure that the subject was not: in prison, in treatment or had recently left treatment. Subjects were classed as initiators if they attended a triage appointment within two weeks of their assessment; non-initiators otherwise. Initiator and non-initiators were compared over a maximum of one year, with respect to their risk of recorded acquisitive offence or DRP-death. Balance was sought using propensity score matching and missing data were accounted for using multiple imputation.

Nine percent of assessments identified for analysis were classed as initiators. Accounting for observed confounding and missing data, there was a reduction in DRPs associated with initiator assessments, however there was uncertainty around this estimate such that a null-effect could not be ruled out (HR: 0.42, 95% CI 0.17–1.04). There was no evidence of a decrease in the recidivism risk, in fact the analysis showed a small increase (HR: 1.10, 95% CI 1.02–1.18).

For heroin-using offenders, initial contact with treatment services does not appear to reduce the likelihood of a future acquisitive offence.

Matthias Pierce, Sheila M. Bird, Matthew Hickman, John Marsden, Graham Dunn, Toby Seddon, Tim Millar
International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 51, January 2018